Serial Productions and the Old Mill Theatre appear to have concocted a cunning plan, more cunning than a fox that has majored in cunning and decided to enact a plan so full of guile and cunningness that it would stump a master criminal. Following last year’s by-all-accounts successful run of Blackadder Goes Forth these clever chaps have decided to put on the Third iteration of the popular sitcom. At this backwards rate, 2017 should see a stonking good production of Not The Nine O’Clock News. Yes, I have been a fan of Rowan Atkinson’s for some time. Throw in a little Ben Elton - though size isn’t all that important here - and some Richard Curtis and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have more fun than that time Hugh Laurie used to be a comedian.
Edmund Blackadder, the scheming, conniving butler in early 19th century London who suffers in the service of a Regent so foppish he makes Hugh Grant’s hairdo look like a crew-cut, labours away doing what he does best – scheming and conniving with trademark acerbic wit. He is assisted in this by his dogsbody Baldrick in much the same way engine failure assists aircraft fly. The acting Regent, George, the Prince of Wales, really is a decent chap though he is a few swizzle sticks short of a jolly good cocktail party. Together they navigate the treacherous waters of anarchists, overblown actors, transvestite highwaymen, destitution, and the Duke of Wellington’s wrath among other things.
Okay, down to business. Blackadder is an iconic character and Atkinson’s shoes are formidable ones to fill. I wasn’t convinced at first but Joe Isaia slowly won me over and is very good as the narky butler. The putdowns and snide remarks are all there and Isaia uses a lot of the same inflections but didn’t quite nail the scorn behind the words. No shame there – Atkinson is the absolute master of the cutting aside. Isaia is front and centre pretty much for the whole four acts and works particularly well with Rodney van Groningen’s George.
And what a George it is. Originally played by Hugh Laurie in the television series this is another challenge for any actor but van Groningen, who was excellent as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier in the year, is the standout here. His George is preening, childlike, naïve and stupid with some lovely moments of physical comedy as well. Keith Scrivens’ Baldrick, however, was oddly a little flat for me. His infamous “cunning plans” (yes, thank you to the gentleman sitting behind me on pointing them out lest the audience and I were under the misapprehension we were attending some strange re-imagining of The King and I) didn’t elicit the sort of craftiness and glee that I had hoped.
In support was Jacqui Warner as Mrs. Miggins with Natalie Watson and Brendan Tobin in minor roles. Michael Lamont played several characters, notably Samuel Johnson and the mad Scot, McAdder while Clare Fazackerley Wood had fun with the duality of Amy Hardwood, initially the source of George’s misguided affections who is later revealed to be a notorious robber. Finally, the director himself, David Gregory has a featured role as the Duke of Wellington in what was the last and best of the four acts, Duel and Duality.
This is where the source material is paramount – this isn’t a coherent play with a single through line narrative, rather four episodes of the show presented as individual acts. Even the running order has been changed – episodes 4 and 5 presented as Acts 1 and 2 with episodes 2 and 6 performed after intermission. The production lands on a suitable ending though the episodic nature detracts a little from the overall experience.
The other stars are the costumes which are fabulous and appropriately gaudy for the period where needed; and especially the set which is a marvel. Not one but TWO revolving sets, one taking up a third of the stage, the other twice the size. I may be no mathematician but that pretty much covered the entire available space. They worked so smoothly like rotating things that revolved on their axis in a circular motion creating the illusion of multiple sets and quick transitions. It really was well thought out and executed most impressively.
This is a slick presentation of a beloved television show, one that really hits its stride in the second half. Directed by David Gregory and written by Ben Elton and Richard Curtis, it stars Joe Isaia, Keith Scrivens, Rodney van Groningen, Jacqui Warner, Michael Lamont, David Gregory, Clare Fazackerley Wood, Brendan Tobin and Natalie Watson and is on at the Old Mill Theatre in South Perth until 11 October.